Wednesday, April 9, 2008

(Another) article: "Giving birth to a lie"

Another article that caught my eye (how can you tell I'm one of these people who's always saying "Listen to this" & reading aloud from my newspaper, book or magazine to whoever is in the room?? -- lol -- drives dh nuts...). It's from this morning's Globe & Mail (available online for about a week):

*** *** ***

Facts & Arguments: THE ESSAY
Giving birth to a lie
I have many children, all toddlers, all imaginary. It's what strangers want to hear

April 9, 2008

I gave birth to another child in the dentist's waiting room. Ella is perfectly formed, with light brown hair that curls around her face. I am already dreaming about dressing her in red corduroy jumpers and candy-striped leotards when the woman beside me interrupts my reverie to continue our conversation.

"How old is your little girl?" I snap back from my daydream and bite my lip in what I hope looks like a mother holding in her pride, but which is really concentration as I try to think quickly.

"She turned 3 last Sunday." My make-believe children are always toddlers. They seem more appealing to the people in waiting rooms/airplanes/hair salons who ask about the children I don't have.

The woman beside me leans in, smiling, to ask enthusiastic questions about my little girl. I don't know why I can't just make up one fictitious child and stick with that story when asked. Perhaps I feel that I have to give all the variations of my non-existent children a chance in the spotlight.
I answer her modestly, my eyelashes lowering as my tongue circles around the words to describe this miraculous experience that has bonded us together in a rite of womanhood.

I am grateful to have the imagination to spontaneously create material with which to ease her discomfort at meeting a stranger. After all, you can only talk about the weather for so long - even as a Canadian.

When I finally stand up from my waiting room chair, I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror framed with dusty, fake flowers. I notice that my face is flushed with the effort of bringing Ella to life. She is, however, a joy to behold, complete with perfectly straight, white baby teeth and an adorable habit of flushing household items down the toilet.

"Good luck with the potty training," the woman calls out to me as I disappear into the rabbit warren of the clinic. As I lean back into the sterile quiet of the dental chair, I think, "Why do I do this?" When the inevitable question comes up in stranger-to-stranger conversations, I could simply confess that I don't have any children. But revealing this secret always results in an awkward pause, and the question "Why?" hangs in the air like an unexploded water balloon.

I yearn to relay a tragic story about infertility, a dying husband or a series of miscarriages, but knowing women and couples who have struggled with these issues, I have at least enough self-restraint to avoid misrepresenting their pain.

No, I cannot play the sympathy card. But the "I chose not to" card seems much harder for people to support. No one ever asks a woman with children, "Why did you choose to have children?" Yet I find myself often defending my choice not to be a mother.

Somehow the "I chose not to" card seems to guarantee that I am labelled as cold-hearted and calculating. The "I chose not to" card provokes, at best, pity and, at worst, indignation accompanied by statements about denying nature, God and our reason for being.

To some extent, the decision not to have children is giving up a child that exists in my heart. It was the right decision but it was not the impetuous or cold-hearted one that "I chose not to" seems to imply.

There are days and weeks when the absence of that child is ever present. But I have no right to mourn, do I? I am not someone who cannot have a child through no fault of my own. My husband and I chose not to have a child, but it was a thoughtful and difficult decision based on personal factors including our differences in age, chronic health issues, career demands and finances.

It was not a decision that we came to easily or without much soul searching. And many people seem to overlook that it is hard to make such a choice without occasionally missing and wondering about what we have not experienced.

But in those moments in the dentist's waiting room, I find myself giving birth to fictitious children for another reason.

I want to be part of the secret club of women with children. This club is filled with shared hardships, joys and sleepless nights worrying about junior's inability to work well with other children. It smells of spit-up and peanut butter sandwiches and teenagers' size 11 sneakers.

Even my closest girlfriends have this "mother place" they go to with each other. They share a visceral human accomplishment and I am jealous. I feel I have denied myself an essential experience that will forever separate me from the rest of my gender.

Whether or not I could have, in reality, conceived or adopted a child is another question. I chose not to pursue the answer and for that, I shall always sit outside the club, my nose pressed against the glass.

I gave birth in the dentist's waiting room and I will again. My Ella, like all the children before her and still to come, is a masterpiece born out of shame, curiosity and a need to be welcomed by others as a contributing member of the human race.

And for those few moments of conversation, I loved her with all my heart.

Christine Fader lives near Kingston, Ont.

*** *** ***

I suppose some people might think this woman is a little off her rocker. I've never invented a child myself -- but I know women who have done it. Infertile women who don't have kids yet. Bereaved moms who, in conversation with taxi drivers and the like, will respond to a question about kids by talking about their dead child as though he or she were alive. It's a little bit of occasional, self-indulgent fantasy that makes them feel, for a few precious moments, like their child is still here with them.

I totally understand her motivation -- that "outside the club, nose pressed against the glass" feeling. But it's kind of sad, isn't it, when it's easier to fake being a mommy than admit you don't have children (-- & then explain why, and then justify your choices, and deal with all the awkwardness… even with total strangers).

She's wrong, though, if she thinks that admitting to pregnancy loss or infertility offers some sort of shield from prying or insensitive comments. Those of us in this camp perhaps get a little more sympathy than people who admit to being childfree by choice -- but we too find ourselves justifying the choices we've made and being subjected to all sorts of lectures and well-meaning advice ("Have you tried IVF?" "Have you thought about adoption? Why not?" "It's been three years, you really need to move on with your life." "Don’t give up, it will probably happen when you least expect it." "My cousin tried for six years and they took a vacation to Mexico and boom! She was pregnant! You see, if you just relax...").

Her story shows that the choice to live childless/free (whether you wanted children or not) is a complex one -- and there are many different reasons why people wind up taking this less-travelled road.


  1. I have practiced how I am going to tell my husband and others when I find out I am pregnant so much that now I am afraid I will blurt out "I'm pregnant" to someone when in fact I'm not. The line that divides sanity from insanity seems so narrow and gray sometimes.

  2. Thanks for sharing - you always find the most interesting articles!

    I have never thought about doing what she did (probably never could - I'm not a good fibber) but I definitely understand the impulse.

  3. This is so sad, so real.

    I've been tempted to do just this: Invent the story they're expecting to hear just to avoid the continuation of questions.

    That's the part I'm probably wrong about. Saying 'yes, I have a child' will probably still lead to more questions.

    Always the questions . . .

  4. This weekend, I saw why you would do this.

    I sat in the entry way of a restaurant for my friend and her baby. I started up a conversation with a mom and she chatted, but also found a reason to leave the scene.

    While at lunch with my friend and baby. Another couple with a baby started talking to her. Commisserating about their babies. I tried to chime in...but was ignored.

    I can see why this woman makes up a child. It never occured to me...but I am by far too honest.

  5. Wow. Haunting article. I just tell people I don't have any children when asked. And I am asked a lot. And then I switch the subject or talk about them.

    My husband suggested to name the child we adopt, if it's a girl, by the name I'd chosen for our wished for child. It felt wrong somehow. That name had already been given. She had been grieved for. Buried, metaphorically. She had been real to me anyway.

  6. Wow. Very interesting article. Sometimes the lies are so much more acceptable.

    I think it struck me because I've (only occasionally) done something similar when asked about my siblings. I don't always want to share that yes, I had a brother but not any more? I've also given his age as he should be before. I don't want the pity that often follows the truth.

  7. I am here via the Mel's Blog Roundup.

    Both of the posts are very thoughtful. I didn't comment on the other one - but so much I could relate too.

    I have been surprised by the thoughts of a coworker who chose to live child free. She doesn't want to be around babies, because it shakes her resolve - yet she feels it is still the best choice for her. It is more complex than it seems. Personally, I think living child free goes against an innate drive. Even if, logically, we know it is our best choice, it is hard to avoid that drive.

    Personally, I have been honest about what we have been through, but it has got me thinking that there may be some pleasure in telling a story about our son as if he was still alive.

  8. interesting article and perspective. I think it is sad that anyone should have to defend their choices and be subject to the incessant probing and judgmental questioning. thanks for sharing. as if it's not hard enough living the path itself... ~luna